Viktor Orban’s Ukraine Reality
The Hungarian PM’s speech on war is not palatable for Western ears, but he’s correct
Yesterday, I covered part of Viktor Orban’s lengthy discourse in Transylvania; today I will cover the remainder of the speech which concerns the foreign policy of Ukraine. The entire discourse is not available on any site. I will rely on the translation of an Hungarian friend who has access to it.
Viktor Orban pushed for a peaceful and negotiated solution to the Ukraine conflict from the start. Europeans have criticized him for being so close to Vladimir Putin. But with Russia cutting off gas to Europe and winter approaching, Orban’s foreign policy realism seems more mature than many people think. From Orban’s talk:
Every war can be looked at from many perspectives, but the primary aspect of every war is the fact that mothers will mourn their children and children will lose their parents. This should be the most important consideration, even in politics. This means for the Hungarian government that we have a primary responsibility to make sure that Hungarian parents are not placed in this situation. I should mention here that some countries criticise our commitment to Ukraine. These countries may be far away and provide little support, if any, in the way of weapons or money. However, today, the Ukrainians are not the only victims in this war. Our records show that 86 Hungarians have died in the conflict to this day. It is quite a different view. The only people who lost blood during that war were the Hungarians, and those criticising us haven’t. Hungary, a neighboring country, has the right and obligation to state that peace will be the best solution to human life and that it is also the only way to end wartime inflation or a crisis in the economy.
How will we look at this war in the near future? This isn’t our war, we will not change our mind. Hungary is a NATO Member. Our starting point is NATO, which is stronger than Russia. Russia will not attack NATO. Ukraine uses weak, but understandable propaganda talk points to claim that Russia won’t stop at Ukraine. It is understandable because they want to include us and to get as many countries on their side as possible in the war. However, it doesn’t have any foundation in reality. Our situation is becoming delicate because we are NATO members and want to avoid this war. NATO and the European Union decided, even though they won’t become belligerents but they will still supply arms and impose harsh economic sanctions. This means they are defacto parties to this conflict. We are now in a dangerous situation. This means that we must help Ukraine while simultaneously being de facto parties to this conflict. However, we also have to ensure that Moscow does not consider it a scenario in which NATO or the European Union has become official belligerents. The European Union and NATO find themselves in this position every day. They also take on enormous risks.
Remember how Orban attempts to explain why the Russians invaded and not justifies the invasion in this section:
Since one can read a lot about the war, if I still have your attention, I would like to say a few words about how this war came about and what the reasons for it were. Everyone knows Russia invaded Ukraine. This is exactly what happened. Let’s now look at why this happened. We also need to remember that understanding something is only the first step towards accepting it. It is important to distinguish between accepting and understanding. This means that you must understand the reasons why Russia did what it did. However, this does not mean that you should accept their actions unless you have an understanding of what they did. Russians made an extremely clear security request and even wrote it in a manner that’s rare in diplomacy and sent it to NATO and the Americans. The Russians have demanded that Ukraine not be admitted to NATO. They also requested that Ukraine make this declaration. NATO has assured Russia that it will do so. We are also required to ensure that no weapons ever land on Ukrainian territory that might cause damage. This offer was rejected by the West and they refused to negotiate. NATO’s “open door” policy means that anyone is welcome to apply. We will then decide whether we wish to accept them. The result of their refusal to negotiate is that the Russians now want to use force to fulfill security requirements they previously tried to meet through negotiations. This war wouldn’t have started if it weren’t for us being a bit luckier. At this critical hour, Donald Trump was elected President of America. Angela Merkel had previously been elected Chancellor of Germany. We were not fortunate, so we’re in war.
Western strategy in this war is based on four pillars. This strategy is sensible on paper and may even have numbers backing it up. First, Ukraine can’t win war against Russia by itself. But it can with the help of NATO and training with Anglo-Saxons. This was the first assertion. Second, sanctions could weaken Russia and undermine the leadership of Moscow. Third, the strategic aspect was that although sanctions would affect us as well, we would be capable of dealing with their economic effects. This would mean that we would not be more hurt and they would suffer less. The fourth strategic element was the fact that everyone would support us because we were right.
Today, we sit in a car with 4 flat tires as a result. This is a clear indication that war can’t be won. With American weapons and training, the Ukrainians won’t win any war against Russia. The Russian army is asymmetrically superior.
The second reality we need to face is that sanctions aren’t destabilizing Moscow.
The third fact is that Europe has been in serious trouble. Not only is it facing economic and political difficulties, but they are also causing problems with the stability of Russia. The British, Italian, Bulgarian, and Estonian governments all fell within a matter of days after the start of war. We are still in autumn. In June, energy prices increased by more than two-thirds. This was the big price increase. We have lost four government governments already, so the effects on our lives are just starting to show.
And lastly, the world isn’t with us. The Americans were able to identify an evil empire in history and call for the whole world to do the same. This phrase is a bit troubling to us, since this was what communists have always stated. The American ability to get everyone on the correct side of history and the world to follow them is gone. The majority of the world does not agree with this side, not South Africa, South Africa or the Indians. The vast majority of the world refuses to participate in the war. This is not because the West is wrong, but rather because there are other issues that matter to them and that need to be solved. This war may be the one to end Western dominance, which used various methods to bring about world unity and defeat certain players on particular issues. This era is ending and, in the bombastic language used by politicians, we are now facing a multipolar world order.
Nobody wants to hear this, as it means the Russians can get whatever they want out of their invasion of Ukraine, or profit at least in some way. But what about the alternatives? Westerners believe that simply because we’re morally right, we can win. This magical thinking is the same as Orban’s belief that he must be wrong about immigration and mixing civilized peoples. He sounds racist. This despite all the problems faced by Western cities inundated with non-assimilable immigrants. This winter will see the end of this magical thinking. Europeans will be freezing to death and protesting the governments who brought them here. Orban clearly sees this coming. Why is Orban wrong if you believe he’s incorrect?
I will be spending the winter in Budapest so you can see it. My American income from TAC and my book earnings will pay me for my stay in Budapest. My apartment will be heated and I’ll easily pay the astronomical costs. This is emphatically not the case for most Hungarians, for whom the average salary is just under $35,000 per year [CORRECTION: the actual figure is more like $12,000 net annual income — RD]. The Hungarian government offers state subsidies for homeowners who have energy bills. However, this system is going to be put through a lot of testing. People of my social status and income can easily hold high ideals regarding the Ukraine war, provided they are able to afford Western resistance.
(Aside note: Mass migration is something I also feel. I have mentioned before my shock at being able to live and work in Dallas 20 years ago. Every respectable upper-class Republican and Democratic was in favor of immigration. I remember the day in 2003 I went out to Irving, a suburb, to talk to a (white) homeowner who was trying to sell his house and move. Why? He was a victim of illegal immigration and his neighbors were renting out large numbers of houses to Central American men. The homeowner was shocked to return from work to discover the SWAT team had blocked his street due to trouble at the rental property. He decided that it was now time for his family to leave. It wasn’t just about race. A Hispanic homeowner was one of those most angry men. He saw all he worked for to support his family in danger because of this influx of migrants and the City of Irving’s indifference. That experience helped me understand why mass migration is good for people such as me. It offers many benefits, including better restaurants and cheaper lawn care, and the satisfaction of being liberal. We were not sending our children to schools that are overcrowded with English-speaking kids. We didn’t have to wait for hours in public hospitals that were overcrowded with illegal immigrants. We didn’t live in houses that had up to 20 men. We did not look down upon the racists who were enraged by the immigrants. You know that some were probably racist. Their concerns about the changes in their lives due to mass migration were not extinguished by Viktor Orban’s delicate language regarding “mixed races”. This is the same fear that many Europeans feel about the future of their life. Modern liberals cannot accept the fact that morally impaired people may be correct about certain things and can have valid grievances. )
What can be done to end the war? Viktor Orban speaks truths that no one wants to hear in the West:
And if we are talking about war, I can use an appropriate style to pose one important question: Chto delat? (Russian for “What’s to be done?”) There are some problems with Hungary’s army. It seems smaller than the other countries. The problem is that Hungary’s GDP seems modest compared to the GDP of the US and other big European nations. We may be able to see the whole picture, have great insights about the war and a strategy proposal, but when it comes down to war everything is irrelevant. The war is just a prelude. The word of the powerful will determine the outcome. Hungary shouldn’t believe that our great advice will make it possible to affect the outcome of war and strategy. However, I believe it is a matter both of honor and moral principle to try and persuade West to come up with a better strategy than the one they have. You must change all four wheels of a car with flat tires. It is time for a new strategy. The focus of the European Union’s attention should be not on winning war but rather on making peace offers and negotiating. Figuratively speaking, the European Union’s task is to not stand with the Russians and Ukrainians but instead to be a neutral party between them. This is the core of any new strategy.
What will happen? Russians speak an ancient language. Listening to the Russians is like listening to the sounds of the past. The system of gestures and categories as well as the words are all there. It is almost like hearing the same thing thirty years or forty years back when I listen to Mr. Lavrov. This does not negate the fact that they say something that makes sense. It is important to take their words seriously. A Russian official stated that the Russians would push on in Ukraine to get the front line so advanced that the Ukrainian weapons will be incapable of hitting Russian territory. The Russians will move the front line further if NATO nations continue to supply them with modern weapons. Because they see the military as a security nation and are only concerned with ensuring it’s not attacked from Ukrainian territory, this is why. Whether we like it or not, we’re extending the war. It means there won’t be any Russo–Ukrainian peace negotiations. We should be used to this idea. Anyone who expects such talks is going to be disappointed. Russia is seeking security guarantees so the Russo American negotiations are required to end this war. Without Russo American talks, there will not be peace.
I could respond by saying “But, look at the Europeans here.” Unfortunately, friends, we Europeans have lost our opportunity to have an impact on events. We squandered it after 2014, when we left the Americans out of the first Minsk agreement created during the Crimean conflict, and instead formulated a Minsk agreement with a Franco-German guarantee. This should have been done, but the Europeans, or the Germans or the French that represented us were not able to make it happen. The Russians are not willing to negotiate with us. They will only work with the people who can make Ukraine do what they agreed. The situation now is similar to the Second World War. Europe finds itself once more in an impasse in regards to its most critical security matter, and this will again be determined by the Americans or the Russians.
He goes on to say that he doesn’t see any realistic chance that the Ukraine war will be resolved until after the 2024 US presidential election. It seems that he is betting on the Republican administration gaining power and seeking peace. He also criticizes the EU’s inability to control its borders and to achieve its global ambitions.
One more shot of Orbanist realism:
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Demography, migration, gender, war. Energy and the economy are our fifth challenge. It is complex. It is best to start over, just like you do after a bad dance move, in order to try to figure out the problem. The most important question is the one that you ask. The simplest question to ask is: Who gains from the war? Answer: The party with its own energy sources is the one that is most likely to benefit. They are prospering. Our mistake was thinking they would have lower revenue if they didn’t buy their energy. It is wrong because the revenue you earn is not just determined by how much energy is sold but also the price per unit. The reality is, the Russians sell less energy but have significantly higher revenues. The Russians have been doing very well. European Union imports from Russia have fallen by 23 per cent, but in the same period Gazprom’s revenues have doubled. China has done very well. The Chinese were once dependent on the Arabs for their energy, sourcing all of their energy from the Middle East. We are no longer buying energy from Russia and China is now energy independent. Large American businesses are also benefiting. I have compiled this list: in 2022 Exxon’s profits doubled, Chevron’s quadrupled, and those of ConocoPhillips increased sixfold. It is clear who is performing economically well. We know who is struggling economically. The European Union is doing badly, because its energy deficit – the difference between its exports and imports, or their value – has tripled, and it is now showing a shortfall of 189 billion euros.
Remember, none of the above — and all that you have read since yesterday — were scripted. The prime minister spoke extemporaneously. Although you may not enjoy the man, he is a deep and extraordinary statesman. Is this Joe Biden? Is it possible to imagine any American politician being able to speak like this to an audience?
Once more, Viktor Orban’s statements about Ukraine policy and migration are not easy to hear from Western ears. However, he is able to speak directly without making any excuses.